Be an Army of One when it comes to Digital Transformation

Be an Army of One when it comes to Digital Transformation

Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect
Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect

It’s often said that if you want to change the world, start by changing yourself first. For the last few years, I’ve been working with customers on large digital transformation projects. Becoming a digital enterprise is a goal for many large industrial organizations. At the same time, Analysts Firms like LNS Research identified back in 2016 that “around 80% of manufacturers have no data historians or manufacturing execution systems (MES) and many with little automation at all, especially in discrete manufacturing industries”. Furthermore, Gartner research mentions that “70% of captured manufacturing data goes unused”. We need to start at the plant level to make improvements that will benefit the entire Manufacturing Corporation.

So where do you start to make improvements? Let’s say that today you have a few Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) controlling the more repetitive parts of your operation and the rest is being done with clipboards, Excel and poster boards where the paper-based daily reports are displayed.

Start with an assessment of the outcomes you would like to have:

- Ability to generate the daily and weekly reports automatically
- Ability to automatically monitor OEE by manufacturing line or cell and identify bottlenecks
- Ability to automatically count inventory at each process step to understand material in process
- Ability to feed work instructions through a central repository to operators and machines

Next move from the data that you have to the data that you need

- Assess the PLC information you have already been logging
- What additional sensors and data loggers will be needed to capture the difference?
- Don’t forget the smartest sensor you have in the plant, which is your operator. How best to capture their manual information in the system?

Look at the capabilities that you need:

- Visualization of process parameters
- Ability to enter reason codes for downtime
- Collection of time series data and events in a high-speed database
- Ability to generate reports on demand and at a scheduled basis
- Provisions for mobile access to information and operator rounds data
- Ability to send setpoint changes to controllers based on operator actions
- Notifications to the right people when help is needed
- Ability for remote specialists to look at the operation and help to troubleshoot problems

Finally consider the technology that’s available today to do this:

- A flexible SCADA System that provides visibility, control and monitoring for both operators and supervisors
- A high-speed data historian with reporting, trending and data analysis capabilities
- Workflow software that can be employed to consistently execute procedures
- An alarm and event subsystem that can notify people when things go out of bounds or problems arise
- Mobile applications that can be used on iPads, cell phones and other mobile devices
- KPI dashboard software that can be displayed on monitors strategically positioned in the plant to give feedback on production progress and whether people are ahead or behind goals
- Batching recipe management software that can automatically download operating parameters without inducing human error as part of the transfer
- Temperature, current, pressure, inductive and proximity sensors to convert the physical world into meaningful digital information

These are things that can be done well ahead of any large digital transformation initiative and will help to generate and organize your data and information at the plant level to be leveraged in future cloud-based big data and analytics projects. At the same time, providing immediate value to the local operation in worker productivity, quality, throughput, inventory reduction, asset management, machine availability, energy reduction and operations agility.

So, think globally and act locally in your digital transformation journey.